Malcolm Gladwell reflects on Kaplan Legacy

In 2001, Malcolm Gladwell, author of The Tipping Point and Outliers, wrote an article in The New Yorker in recognition of Stanley Kaplan’s memoir Test Pilot. But the article is more than just a book review, it is an interpretation of the meaning of what Stanley Kaplan contributed to the field of higher education during the last century.

From our vantage point in this new century, it is sometimes easy to forget that Stanley Kaplan was an innovator himself.

Let me let Gladwell speak for himself from his article, Examined Life:

In proving that the S.A.T. was coachable, Stanley Kaplan did something else, which was of even greater importance. He undermined the use of aptitude tests as a means of social engineering. In the years immediately before and after the First World War, for instance, the country’s élite colleges faced what became known as “the Jewish problem.” They were being inundated with the children of Eastern European Jewish immigrants. These students came from the lower middle class and they disrupted the genteel Wasp sensibility that had been so much a part of the Ivy League tradition. They were guilty of “underliving and overworking.”

In the words of one writer, they “worked far into each night [and] their lessons next morning were letter perfect.” They were “socially untrained,” one Harvard professor wrote, “and their bodily habits are not good.” But how could a college keep Jews out? Columbia University had a policy that the New York State Regents Examinations–the statewide curriculum-based high-school-graduation examination–could be used as the basis for admission, and the plain truth was that Jews did extraordinarily well on the Regents Exams. One solution was simply to put a quota on the number of Jews, which is what Harvard explored. The other idea, which Columbia followed, was to require applicants to take an aptitude test. According to Herbert Hawkes, the dean of Columbia College during this period, because the typical Jewish student was simply a “grind,” who excelled on the Regents Exams because he worked so hard, a test of innate intelligence would put him back in his place.

Stanley Kaplan contributed to dismantling the idea of the SAT as purely an aptitude test — an idea that was being trumpeted to reinforce unfair cultural stereotypes.

That is a Kaplan legacy that I am proud of!

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2 responses to “Malcolm Gladwell reflects on Kaplan Legacy

  1. I love this! I am very proud, too! 🙂

    By the way, I have been implementing “Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard” into my teaching, even though I have only listened to it once (I get to do an audio book review – woot!). My students are loving it! They even want to read it and get inspired for more change, too.

    I think that is another legacy of Kaplan — not only being open to change, but actively looking for opportunities to generate it through education. Even just realizing it is possible to change things is half the battle.

  2. This is a bit off the subject, but as someone who was raised in a Jewish family, it makes me very sad that Jews once experienced this type of discrimination, especially since we all know that education, in any amount,can be a life-changing event. However, the irony of it is that discrimination is a form of ignorance, yet some of our country’s most “elite colleges” reputed to have the highest academic standards, were guilty of practicing discrimination towards Jewish people.

    On the subject, Mr. Kaplan did a monumental thing!!!!

    Below is the link to a New York Times article that was written upon his death.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/25/education/25kaplan.html

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